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A stretch of Highway 12/67 cuts through the town of La Grange in Walworth County. Citing safety and economic concerns, two Walworth County groups wrote letters to Gov. Tony Evers in January asking the governor to consider widening the highway between Whitewater and Elkhorn from two lanes to four.

Walworth County sheriff’s Capt. Dave Gerber has been with the county’s Traffic Safety Commission for four years.

In that time, he said the group has never written to the governor about local road projects. The commission has not written to other politicians, either.

But on Jan. 11—just a few days into Gov. Tony Evers’ administration—Gerber sent a letter asking the governor to consider an uncompleted project that would widen Highway 12/67 between Elkhorn and Whitewater to four lanes.

“In an effort to reduce crashes and eliminate heavy traffic backups, we are requesting you to make it a priority to fund the completion of this project from Elkhorn to the Whitewater 4-Lane bypass,” Gerber wrote.

The letter includes the names of 14 other officials from agencies such as the sheriff’s office, the county’s public health agency, the state Department of Transportation and the Wisconsin State Patrol.

“Our hope is that he (Evers) discusses it with his Department of Transportation secretary and looks at possibly funding it and finishing it to help our traffic concerns here in Walworth County,” Gerber told The Gazette.

Two letters

The Traffic Safety Commission is not the only Walworth County group that wrote to the governor about the project during his first week in office.

Jeffery Knight, president and CEO of the Greater Whitewater Committee, said he hand-delivered a letter to Evers’ office Jan. 10 requesting the completion of an environmental impact study along the route.

The committee in a news release mentioned a 2016 study from the Southeastern Wisconsin Regional Planning Commission.

That study showed the average annual daily traffic volume on the highway exceeded its capacity of 14,000 and that 15 percent of crashes included a fatality or observed injury. The latter statistic is 18 percent more than the state average.

When asked if he was optimistic, Knight said he wanted to be “cautious” because “the revenue picture for transportation in Wisconsin is not healthy.” There are many projects that need funding with limited resources, and as cars become more efficient, the state generates less gas tax revenue, he said.

Gerber and Knight said they have not heard responses from Evers’ office—although Knight emphasized he did not expect to hear back so soon from a brand-new administration.

An Evers spokesperson could not immediately be reached for comment. Transportation was a major subject on the campaign trail, and Evers, a Democrat, could face a fight with the GOP-controlled Legislature over road funding.

Other reasons for concern

Congestion, especially with tourism in the summer, is one concern both Walworth County groups shared.

Gerber and Knight both said UW-Whitewater is the only UW campus that is not accessible via a four-lane highway. They mentioned better education as another potential benefit to the project.

“We believe that you are a strong proponent of education; completing the 4-Lane will encourage greater attendance at UW Whitewater and often students make their career choices near their college location,” Gerber wrote. “As our population grows older, we need an influx of younger, educated people.”

Knight also pointed to economic development concerns. Not only would companies prefer better highway access, some organizations came to the area believing the project would be completed, he said.

With the Evers administration’s first budget proposal looming, it is unclear whether work along Highway 12/67 will get a green light.

“Whenever they feel they can fit this into their schedule would be up to them,” Gerber said.

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